Monday, November 24, 2014

'Turf to Tools' Online ?? (the aftermath) / Rant on Connection Speeds

Well - maybe not as effective as hoped.

I think you may be able to still view some portions of the presentation on the internet via:

(This is a bit difficult for me to determine here, as my older system / browser combination and especially my slow transmission speed is less than effective.)

Honestly, I think this whole attempt is more an illustration of differing approaches to a single event - of multiple objectives not meshing as well as they might.

The team at University of Aberdeen appear to be working from two viewpoints, which should compliment each other, but may have resulted in a few aspects being fumbled.
- One group of largely academics is researching the ability of rural communities to engage with each other from remote locations. The principle here is important - that internet communications should allow for even physically separated individuals to combine to share information. A cell phone or Skype connection does not (much) care if you are in the next room or half way across the planet - at least in theory.
A second group is basically composed of techies, people involved in the nuts and bolts of hardware and software. Fair to say those focused on the attempt to bring the grand principle of universal access into practical function.

A third group involved ended up in many ways being like the icing on that two layer cake. That's the people (like myself) who are presenting the actual content. Frankly, I'm not sure how much influence we ended up having over what or how *we* thought information about our work would best be illustrated or presented.  Obviously we were enthusiastic about any situation which would allow us to report to a wider audience about the Turf to Tools project.

The presentation consisted of four primary elements:
- Nuno Sacramento, Director at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop
live, describing the overall Turf to Tools project and its intended objectives
- Eden Jolly, Chief Technician at SSW
live - describing the physical activities of the project (and something on his own background)
- Video of the third smelt shot by Tom Jones, University of Aberdeen
this did include a fairly good description by myself of the process, plus the whole extraction process
- Myself
contributing via Skype from Ontario (using an iPad mini), attempting to answer audience questions.

 There was no specific co-ordination before the event between the individual presenters about their individual content. Although we had all worked together on the project, we had approached the whole sequence from differing viewpoints and expectations. This showed pretty clearly in how we individually spoke about the project.
(In itself not such a bad thing, as it did illustrate something about what had always been intended as a collaborative project. This might have left viewers, unfamiliar with those involved or the the body of work, with a fractured image of the conduct of the project??)

From my side, two things did stand out:

First, the publication of the live streaming itself did not appear particularly effective.
This may or may not have been a concern to the academics or the technicians. I was certainly not able to access what pre-event advertising that might have been made through the University of Aberdeen community (which might have been extensive?). I certainly did not have access to any related advertising materials until early the week of the event. I made some attempts (not necessarily very effective) to notify people via the on line world : Facebook / direct discussion groups / my blog / very limited direct e-mails.
This was rendered ineffective by a last minute change in the actual internet access portal used for the live streaming. I was told of the change in access site less than five hours before the event. Too late to modify the previously published information.

Second, despite some earlier attempts to test the internet communications, there were some significant linkage problems. The use of internet based live streaming inserted a considerable delay between a source voice - and the broadcast of that voice. Roughly 30 seconds by my count. This created a feedback loop effect, with speakers (both live in Aberdeen and me from Ontario) needing to talk over top of their own delayed voice coming back over the audio broadcast.

A more minor problem, at least on my side, was that audience questions were not picked up via a directly held microphone. Trying to pick out the questioner's voice from a general room mike was extremely difficult for me. (That attempt at concentration certainly was clearly visible on my face!)

Although the concept of integrating individuals from widely separated locations into a single broadcast event employing internet based technologies is a good one, the end result of this specific presentation I think illustrates the problems :
- Although the technologies may exist at the 'top end', the limitations and varying capabilities of individual hardware, software and access remains difficult to effectively integrate. Most especially for private individuals (self funded) and for rural locations (reduced access speeds).
- Special consideration needs to be made for the direct limits imposed by the continuing lack of true 'high speed' communication system for rural locations. There is a clear 'divide' between the possibilities of expensive state of the art hardware and software and urban available high speed connections - and the existing realities of rural residents (using older hardware and with only poor connection speeds available).
- Although the internet may be instantaneous, *people* are not! Increasingly there is a paradox between an expectation of fast turn over on information, and how those same fast systems over tax the human limitations. The ability to (theoretically) *do* more and more has created an expectation that somehow we are actually *able* to do vastly more. The real effect is that increasingly, choices to participate in individual events must be made ever further into personal future scheduling.

'The oxen are slow - but the earth is patient'

(The balance is more or less a separate commentary on Rural Access)

I find myself in a unique (?) position to  comment on this specific problem - the internet and the increasing 'urban / rural divide'.
I have been active with the internet from its earlier days, pretty much as long as access was possible via telephone modem here in lower Grey County. In the early 1990's, this was via discussion boards, primarily still in a kind of of 'live chat' format. I was also early involved in personal web sites, the original content for the Wareham Forge was created and posted roughly 1994. (Back then you had to learn and hand write html code.)T
through the late 90's I had been in a position to receive a number of slightly used Macintosh computer main frames, which all came loaded with top end graphics software. The cost of replacement Mac computers, most especially the cost of replacing all that software (!) has resulted in me keeping to older machines and software versions. Right now I am working primarily on a 2005 issue machine (Mac G5) running a 2007 operating system. My email software is Thunderbird (2007) and my browser is Firefox (2010). Presently this machine is 'maxed out' - it is running the latest combination of software that it is able. Fixed at roughly 2007, so seven years from 'current'.
Do note that my extensive web site has largely been created and implemented using entirely 2005 level hardware and software (a good portion using systems older than that even). In terms of everyday business functions, I manage successfully employing systems of the same vintage.  On image processing, the vintage of the hardware and software is much the same (my primary digital camera is a 2006 model). Of all the aspects of my business operations, it is only my limited video processing which would noticeably be improved with the installation of new (faster) computing or software.

My physical location is roughly 5 km off a main highway, a good 15 plus km from the closest (small!) village, and located on the highest ground in Ontario. This combines to greatly limit my potential access to internet connection. I gave up service via on the 1960's era Bell Canada copper wire about 10 years ago. Transmission speeds there were running roughly 5 *kilo* bites per second. (So that is 5 - 30 seconds for a typical e-mail message, roughly 1 - 2 minutes for a standard small sized image. Makes it roughly 20 minutes for a typical digital 'straight out of the camera' image.)
I don't have connection via line of sight to any direct wireless broadcast towers here. This partially geography, but more because the low population density does not deem it profitable to install the towers. (About two years back I did test the wireless hub equipment offered by Bell, Telus and Rodgers. All ensured me that G4 level service was available. In actual fact, none of their equipments would actually connect to the internet here in Wareham.) As raw economics are determining the placement of (admittedly costly) broadcast towers, that situation is never likely to change.
About ten years back, I was pretty much forced to invest in a satellite uplink system. At the time the total investment (hardware and installation) ran me about $1000. Monthly cost then was $50, increased since to $70, that for base level service. This is via the Xplornet system (the only service provider available by the way).  Despite advertising to the contrary, my typical functioning transmission speeds are roughly 300 to maybe at best 500 *kilo* bites per second. I currently can not usually listen to on line transmitted music 'as fast as it plays'. I certainly can not view video (like YouTube) without waiting at least four times longer than the length of the clip for the download. I can manage Skype video chat, but often with breaks in video and even audio. This limit on functional speed is, if anything, likely to be reduced with time - certainly not increased. You share a portion of the available dish volume with all other users, so the more people purchase the service and then attempt ever more complex use, the effective available speed / volume per individual is reduced.

Increasingly, I am finding myself blocked out of portions of the internet.
One reason is the rapid increase in software. As organisations increasingly add more 'whistles and bells' to their web sites, these elements are generated using increasingly later version (or entirely new) software 'widgets'. Facebook, for example, is increasingly annoying for this. As I am not interested in someone's choice of soundtrack or 'dancing pigs' framing, I find my self blocked from information content because of these mere distractions. I have found a number of official Government impossible to use, because they require specific software installation on the part of the user. (I find it particularly offensive that I am being required in install the latest version of Microsoft Windows to communicate with my own government - for registrations they themselves are insisting I need undertake. This is in in result a demand that I need purchase a specific computer type and operating system package - of the Government's choice.)

Individual web sites increasingly use ever more elaborate security features, which create two interlocked blocks to my use. First is again a requirement for newer software, and by extension a newer computer to run that software. (A clear argument can be made that elevated security is to *my* benefit, so I should be making the investment to remain current here.) More significant to this discussion, is the increasing requirement for high speed transmission during the course of 'secure' functions. The machine on the other end, sends out a 'ping' - a simple 'are you still there?'. Increasingly, bu the time my machine, on the other end of the satellite broadcast down, then up again, can not return the 'I'm still here' message. So, for the sake of perceived 'loss of contact', the controlling system just halts the ongoing process. What I get on my end is a 'session terminated' message.
Bare in mind, these blocks are all happening where increasingly, official services are being converted to 'on line only'. Canadian Goods and Services / Harmonised Sales Taxes are only able to be processed via on line communications at this point. Bell Canada and other utilities are now charging extra to issue paper copy invoices, expecting these transactions to use entirely on line processing instead.

As I have absolutely no control over access to the internet itself, as a rural resident I am slowly being excluded from functional parts of the internet. As transmission speeds are directly the result of the installation of major infrastructure systems, and these are dictated by 'cost per user', I can not envision my situation ever significantly improving. (The massive influx of Menonite farmers into my local area over the last five years is not likely to improve the 'users per square kilometer' function.*)

As individuals are increasingly dazzled by the 'latest and greatest', in a society ever obsessed  with novelty over function, I expect the Rural - Urban Divide as applied to the internet to also ever increase. Increasing raw speed has become the driver itself, over any consideration that there is actually any improvement in activity. Your computer might be able to process e-mails at a thousand a minute, but you still can not read them any faster and still only hunt and peck as you type to answer them.
Because you have been convinced that your six month old phone is not adequate any more, or you want to play Total Combat 15 on line, the entire internet is shifting to demand the only effective access is extreme high speed access.

Those of us who are being choked off from these required access speeds, through those same merely profit bottom line restrictions, are being left in the metaphorical dust on the information super highway.

(a good example of human vs internet speeds? This report took me roughly three and a half hours to compose.)

* Curriously enough, one of the related problems of rural life - fluctuations in electrical supply, has actually been greatly improved locally with this same influx of Menonite owners. One of the first signs of Menonite purchase of a property is that the existing Hydro connections are yanked out. In fact local Menonite farms are massive users of electricity, but that power is manufactured individually using large diesel powered generators installed on each farm. The electrical grid around Wareham was installed in the 1950's, and not significantly upgraded since. When I first moved here there were serious problems with brown outs (daily), power surges (weekly) and failures (monthly). I had to invest in a number of 'un-interrupted power supply' systems for all the household electronics. With so many users excluding themselves from the grid, the electrical supply has actually gotten significantly *more* dependable of late.

No comments:


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

COPYRIGHT NOTICE - All posted text and images @ Darrell Markewitz.
No duplication, in whole or in part, is permitted without the author's expressed written permission.
For a detailed copyright statement : go HERE